The Garden of Eden
There was once a king’s son, no one had as many and as beautiful books as he did; everything that had taken place in the world he could read about and see represented in marvellous images. He could find out about every race of people and every country, but as to where the Garden of Eden was to be found there stood not a single word, and that was precisely what he used to think about most.
His grandmother had told him while he was still quite young, though about to start his schooling, that each flower in the Garden of Eden was the sweetest cake, its filaments the finest wine; on one stood history, on a second geography or multiplication tables, one only needed to eat a cake to know one’s lesson; the more one ate, the more one ingested of history, geography and arithmetic.
He believed that at the time; but when he grew a little older, learnt more and became much cleverer, he understood that there had to be beauty of a very different kind in the Garden of Eden.
‘Oh, why did Eve pluck from the Tree of Knowledge! why did Adam eat of the forbidden fruit! if it had been me, it would never have happened! sin would never have entered the world!’ He said that then, and he was still saying it when he was seventeen years old! The Garden of Eden filled his thoughts completely.
One day, he was out walking in the forest; he was on his own, for that was what gave him the greatest pleasure.
Evening fell, the clouds gathered, rain began to fall as if the heavens were one great floodgate from which the water tumbled down; it was as dark as it normally is at night in the deepest well. Now he slipped in the wet grass, now he tripped over the projections that stuck up out of the rock-strewn ground. Everything was soaking wet, there was not a stitch left on the poor prince that was dry. He had to crawl up over large boulders where water seeped out of the high-grown moss. He was on the point of collapse when he heard a strange roaring, and ahead of himself he saw a large, lit-up cave. In the middle of it a fire was blazing, huge enough to roast a stag on, and that was also what was taking place – the most magnificent stag, with its mighty antlers, had been spit and was slowly being turned between two felled pine trees. An oldish woman, tall and strong as it she was a man in disguise, sat by the fire, tossing one log after the other onto it.
‘Just come closer!’ she said, ‘sit yourself down by the fire so you can get your clothes dried!’
‘There’s a terrible draught here!’ the prince said and sat down on the floor.
‘It’ll get even worse when my sons come home!’ the woman answered. ‘You are in the Cave of the Winds here, my sons are the four winds, if you get my meaning.’
‘Where are your sons?’ the prince asked.
‘It difficult to answer such a stupid question,’ the woman said. ‘My sons are off on their own, they’re playing a game of rounders with the clouds up there in the fine parlour!’ and she pointed up at the sky.
‘Oh, I see!’ the prince said. ‘You speak somewhat severely, I find, and are not as gentle as the young ladies I normally see around me!’
‘Well, they haven’t anything better to do! I have to be severe if I’m to keep my boys in check! but that I can, even though they are stiff-necked! do you see the four sacks hanging on the wall; they are as afraid of them as you have been of the birch rod behind the mirror. I can bend the boys double, let me tell you, and then it’s in the bag with them – and no nonsense! there they’ll have to sit tight and not be gallivanting about before I see fit. But he comes one of them!’
It was the North Wind who entered with a biting cold, large beads of hail bounced along the floor, and snowflakes swirled about. He was dressed in bearskin trousers and jacket, a sealskin cap was pulled down over his ears, long icicles hung from his beard, and one bead of hail after the other slid down from his jacket collar.
‘Don’t go straight to the fire,’ the prince said. ‘You can easily get frostbite in your face and hands!’
‘Frost!’ the North Wind said with a loud laugh. ‘Frost! that’s the best thing I know! What sort of a whippersnapper are you then? How did you end up the Cave of the Winds?’
‘He’s my guest!’ the old woman said, ‘and if you’re not content with that explanation, you can be put in the bag! – you know all about my powers of judgment!’
Now that had its effect, and the North Wind told the prince where he had come from, and where he had been for almost a month.
‘I come from the Arctic ocean,’ he said, ’I have been on ‘Bear Island’ with the Russian walrus hunters. I sat and slept on the tiller when they sailed out from the North Cape! when I woke up from time to time, the fulmar was flying round my legs! it’s a ridiculous bird that takes one quick beat with its wings and then holds them stretched out motionless and has gained sufficient speed to do this.’
Don’t make it so long-winded!’ the Mother of the Winds said. ‘And then you came to Bear Island!’
‘It’s delightful there! there’s a floor to dance on, flat as a pancake! half-melted snow with a little moss, outcrops of rock and skeletons of walruses and polar bears lay there, they looked like warriors’ arms and legs, covered in green mould. You would think the sun had never shone on them. I blew the mist aside a bit, so that one could see the shanty: it was a house made out of wreckage and covered with walrus skin with the flesh side out, all red and green; on the roof there sat a live polar bear growling. I went down to the shore, looked at the bird’s nests, looked at the naked young nestlings, screeching and open-mouthed; then I blew down thousands of throats, and that soon taught them to close their mouths. Down at the water’s edge the walruses wallowed, like living intestines or huge maggots with pig’s heads and tusks two feet long!’ –
‘You tell a good tale, my boy!’ his mother said. ‘My mouth waters just listening to you!’
‘Then the hunting started! The harpoon was buried into the walrus’ chest, with the steaming jet of blood spurted like a fountain over the ice. Then I also thought of my sport! I got up a gale, let my sailing ships, the cliff-high icebergs, squeeze the boats together; whoo, how I blew, and how people screamed, but I blew yet stronger! the carcasses, chests and ropes they had to unpack onto the ice! I shook the snowflakes round them and made them drift southwards in their wedged-in craft with their catch, to make them taste salt water there. They will never return to Bear Island!’
‘That was wicked of you!’ The Mother of the Winds said.
‘What good deeds I have done others can relate!’ he said, ‘but here comes my brother from the West, he’s the one I like best of all of them, he tastes of the sea and has a wonderful coolness with him.’
‘Is it the small Zephyr?’ the prince asked.
‘Yes indeed, it’s Zephyr!’ the old woman said, ‘but he’s not all that small any more. In the old days he was a handsome boy, but that time is over!’
He looked like a savage, but was wearing a lined cap so as not to hurt himself. In his hand he held a mahogany club, hewn in the American mahogany forests. Nothing less would do!
‘Where do you come from?’ his mother asked.
‘From the forest wildernesses!’ he said, ‘where the prickly lianas form a barrier between every tree, where the watersnake lies in the wet grass, and humans seem unnecessary!’
‘I looked at the deep river, saw how it plunged from the cliff, turned into fine spray and flew up towards the clouds to bear the rainbow. I saw the wild buffalo swimming in the river, but the current caught him, he was borne along with the flocks of wild duck that flew into the air where the water plunged down; as the buffalo had to also, I liked that, a got up a gale so the ancient trees sailed along and were smashed to smithereens.’
‘And you didn’t do anything else than that?’ the old woman asked.
‘I have somersaulted in the savannahs, I have stroked the wild horses and shaken down coconuts! Oh yes, I’ve stories to tell! but one mustn’t say everything one knows. You know all about that, you old woman!’ and then his kissed his mother so she nearly fell backwards – he really was a wild one.
Now the South Wind came in his turban and billowing Bedouin cloak.
‘It’s extremely cold in here!’ he said, and flung firewood onto the fire, ‘it’s obvious that the North Wind was first to arrive!’
‘It’s so hot in here you could roast a polar bear!’ the North Wind said.
‘You’re a polar bear yourself!’ the South Wind answered.
‘Do you all want to be put into bags!’ the old woman asked,’ – ‘Sit down on that stone and tell us where you’ve been.’
‘In Africa, mother!’ he answered. ‘I was out hunting lions with the Hottentots in the land of the Kaffir! Oh what grass grows there on the plains, as green as an olive! there the gnu danced, and the ostrich and I raced each other, but I was more fleet of foot. I came to the desert to the yellow sand; there it looks like the sea bed. I met a caravan! they slaughtered the last camel to get water to drink, but there was not much to be had. The sun blazed down from above, and the sand below was scorching. The expanse of desert was boundless. Then I frolicked in the fine, loose sand and whirled it up in huge columns – now that was a dance! You should have seen how despondent the dromedary became, and how the merchant pulled his kaftan well down over his head. He prostrated himself before me as before Allah, his God. Now they are buried, a pyramid of sand stands over them all, when I come to blow it away, the sun will bleach the bones white and travellers will be able to see that humans have been there before them. Otherwise one would not believe it in the desert!’
‘So you have only done wicked things!’ his mother said. ‘Into the bag with you!’ and before he knew it, she had taken the South Wind by the waist and put him into the bag, it tumbled around on the floor, but she sat down on it, and then he had to lie still.
‘Those are quite high-spirited boys you have there!’ the prince said.
‘Yes to be sure,’ she replied, ‘and I can keep them in check! Here comes the fourth!’
It was the East Wind, he was dressed like a Chinese.
‘Aha, you’re coming from those parts!’ his mother said, ‘I thought you had been in the Garden of Eden.’
‘I won’t be flying there until tomorrow!’ the East Wind said, ‘tomorrow it is a hundred years since I was there last! I’ve just come from China right now, where I have danced round the porcelain tower and made all the bells ring. Down in the street, the officials were given a beating, bamboo rods were worn out on their shoulders, and there were people from the first to the ninth rank who cried out: many thanks, my paternal benefactor! but they didn’t mean anything by it, and I made the bells jangle and sang tsing, tsang, tsu!’
‘You’re a skittish one!’ the old woman said, ‘it’s a good thing you’ll off tomorrow to the Garden of Eden, that can always have an educative effect on you! Take a good drink from the Fount of Wisdom and bring a small phial of it back home to me!’
‘I will,’ the East Wind said. ‘But why have you put my brother from the South into a bag – out with him again! he is to tell me about the Phoenix, for that bird the princess in the Garden of Eden always wants to hear about when I pay my visit every hundredth year. Undo the bag, won’t you, and I’ll call you my sweetest mother and give you two pocketfuls of tea, so green and fresh, that I have only just plucked from where it grew!’
‘Oh well, for the sake of the tea and because you’re my little darling, I’ll open the bag!’ she did so and the South Wind crawled out, but he looked very shamefaced because the prince had witnessed the whole scene.
‘Here is a palm leaf for you to give the princess!’ the South Wind said, ‘that leaf the old Phoenix, the only one existing in the world, has given me; with his beak he has scratched his entire life story, the hundred years he has lived; now she can read it for herself. I saw how the Phoenix set fire to its own nest and sat there in the midst of the fire, like the wife of a Hindu. Oh, how the dry branches crackled, there was smoke and a sweet odour. Finally everything flared up, the old Phoenix became ashes, but his glowing red egg lay in the fire, it split open with a loud crack, and the young bird flew out, now it is ruler over all the birds and is the only Phoenix in the world. He has bitten a hole in the palm leaf I gave you, that is his greeting to the princess!’
‘Let’s have something to sustain us!’ the Mother of the Winds said, and so they all sat down to dine on the roast stag, and the prince sat next to the East Wind, and that was why they soon became good friends.
‘Tell me, now,’ the prince said, ‘What is this princess that’s been talked about so much, and where does the Garden of Eden lie?’
‘Ho, ho!’ the East Wind said, ‘if you want to go there, well, just fly with me tomorrow! but I have to tell you that no humans have been there since the time of Adam and Eve. Them you know about from your biblical history!’
‘Yes, of course!’ the prince said.
‘Back then when they were banished, the Garden of Eden sank into the ground, but it retained its warm sunshine, its mild air and all its glory. The queen of the fairies lives in there; there lies the Isle of Bliss where death never comes, where it is a delight to be! Climb up on my back tomorrow and I will take you with me; I think it can be done! but now you must stop talking, for I want to sleep!’
And then they all slept.
Early the next morning the prince woke up and was more than slightly taken aback to find himself already high up above the clouds. He was sitting on the back of the East Wind, who kept a trusty hold on him; they were so high in the sky that forests and field, rivers and lake looked like some illuminated map.
‘Good morning!’ the East Wind said. ‘You can sleep a bit longer if you want to, for there’s not much to see in the flat landscape below us. Unless you feel like counting churches! they are like dots of chalk on that green board.’ It was fields and meadows that he referred to as the green board.
‘It was impolite of me not to have said goodbye to your mother and your brothers!’ the prince said.
‘When one is asleep, one is excused!’ the East Wind said, after which they flew on even more swiftly: one could hear this from the tops of the trees when they swept past, all the branches and leaves rattled; one could hear this from the sea and the lakes, for wherever they flew, the waves grew higher, and the large ships nodded deeply in the water, like swimming swans.
Towards evening, as it grew dark it looked so amusing with the large cities – the lights were lit down there, now here, not there, it was just as if one has lit a piece of paper and sees the many small sparks, where they are like children leaving school! And the prince clapped his hands, but the East Wind asked him to stop doing that, rather keep a good hold, otherwise he could easily fall down and end up hanging on a church spire.
The eagle in the black forests flew with consummate ease, but the East Wind flew even more so. The Cossack on his small horse darted over the plains, but the prince darted in a different way.
‘Now you can see the Himalayas!’ the East Wind said, ‘they are the highest mountains in Asia; soon we will be arriving at the Garden of Eden!’ then they turned more to the south, and soon there was the scent of spices and flowers. Figs and pomegranates grew wild, and the wild vine had blue and red grapes on it. Here the two of them descended, stretched themselves out in the soft grass where the flowers nodded to the wind as if they wanted to say: ‘Welcome back.’
‘Are we now in the Garden of Eden?’ the prince asked.
‘Oh, no!’ the East Wind replied, ‘but we will soon arrive there. Can you see the rock face there and the large cave where the vines hang like large green curtains? That is where we will pass through! Wrap your cloak around you, here the sun is burning hot, but one step more and it is bitterly cold. The bird that is skimming past the cave has one wing out here in the warm summer and the other inside in the cold winter!’
So, this is the way to the Garden of Eden?’ the prince asked.
They now entered the cave! ooh, how bitterly cold it was, but it did not, however, last long. The East Wind spread out his wings, and they gleamed like the clearest fire; aah, what caves! the great blocks of stone from which the water dripped hung over them in the strangest shapes; now it was so narrow that they had to crawl on hands and knees, now so high and vast as in the open air. It looked like sepulchral chapels with mute organ pipes and petrified banners.
‘We are taking taking the road of death to the Garden of Eden, aren’t we?’ the prince asked, but the East Wind did not answer a word, pointed forwards, and the loveliest blue light streamed towards them; the blocks of stone above there grew increasingly misty that finally cleared, like a white cloud in moonlight. Now they were in the most delightful mild air, as fresh as in the mountains, as fragrant as the roses of the valley.
A river ran there as clear as the air itself, and the fishes were like silver and gold; purple eels that gave off blue sparks at every twist and turn played down in the water and the broad water-lily leaves had the colours of the rainbow, the flower itself was a reddish-yellow burning flame nourished by the water, just as oil causes a lamp to burn constantly! A solid bridge of marble, but carved so finely and artistically as if it was made of lace and glass beads, led over the water to the Isle of Bliss where the Garden of Eden bloomed.
The East Wind took the prince by the arms and carried him over. There flowers and leaves sang the loveliest songs from his childhood, but so overwhelmingly beautifully – such as no human voice can sing.
Was it palm trees or huge water plants that grew here! trees so sap-filled and large the prince had never seen before; the strangest twining plants hung in long garlands, as only found depicted in colours and gold in the margins of old hagiographies, or twining through initial letters. There were the strangest assortment of birds, flowers and convoluting plants. In the grass close by stood a pride of peacocks with scintillating fanned tails! Yes, it was really so! but no, when the prince touched them, he noticed that they were not animals but plants: it was the big butterburs that gleamed here like the lovely tail of the peacock. The lion and tiger leaped like lithe cats among green hedges that smelled like apple blossom, and the lion and tiger were tame, the wild wood pigeon, shimmering like the loveliest pearl, brushed the lion’s mane with its wings, and the antelope, which is normally so shy, stood nodding its head as if it wanted to join in the game.
Now the Fairy of the Garden came; her clothes glittered like the sun, and her face was mild like that of a joyful mother when truly happy with her child. She was so young and beautiful, and the loveliest of maidens, each with a gleaming star in her hair, followed her.
The East Wind gave her the inscribed leaf from the Phoenix, and her eyes sparkled with joy; she took the prince by the hand and led him into her palace, where the walls had colours like those of the most magnificent tulip petal when held up against the sun, the ceiling itself was one large gleaming flower, and the more one gazed up at it, the deeper its calyx seemed to become. The prince went over to the window and looked through one of the panes, then he saw the Tree of Knowledge and the serpent, and Adam and Eve stood close by. ‘Haven’t they been banished?’ he asked, and the fairy smiled and explained to him that on each pane of glass time had branded its image, but not as one usually saw it, no for there was life within it, the leaves of the trees moved, the people came and went, as in a mirror image. And he looked through a second pane, and there was Jacob’s dream, with the ladder ascending to heaven, and the angels gliding up and down it with large wings. Yes, everything that had taken place in this world lived and moved in the panes of glass; pictures of such art only time could brand.
The fairy smiled and led him into a large, high-ceilinged hall; its walls seemed to be transparent portraits, each face lovelier than the previous one; there were millions of happy people who smiled and sang so that it all blended into one melody; those highest up were so small that they seemed tinier than the tiniest rosebud when drawn as a dot on the paper. And in the middle of the hall stood a large tree with hanging, luxuriant branches; golden apples, large and small, hung like oranges among the green leaves. It was the Tree of Knowledge, of whose fruit Adam and Eve had partaken. From every leaf there dripped a gleaming red drop of dew; it was as if the tree was weeping tears of blood.
‘Let us now go on board the boat!’ the fairy said, ‘in it we will enjoy refreshments out on the heaving water! The boat rocks but stays on the spot, though all the countries of the world glide past our eyes.’ And it was a strange sight to see, how the entire coast moved. Along came the high, snow-clad Alps, with clouds and black pine trees, the horn had a deep, melancholy sound to it, and the shepherd yodelled beautifully in the valley. Now banana trees bent down their long, hanging branches over the boat, jet-black swans swam in the water, and the strangest animals and flowers came in view on the shore: it was New Holland, the fifth part of the world, which with a view out to the blue mountains glided past. One could hear the priests’ song and saw the savages dance to the sound of drums and instruments of bone. The Egyptian pyramids that soared into the skies; collapsed columns and sphinxes, half buried in the sand, sailed past. The northern lights shimmered over the glaciers of the North – it was a firework display that no one could imitate. The prince was so blissful, for he saw hundreds more marvels than we can relate here.
‘And can I stay here for ever?’ he asked.
‘That depends on you!’ the fairy answered. ‘If you do not, like Adam, allow yourself to be tempted to do what is forbidden, you can always stay here!’
‘I will not touch the apples on the Tree of Knowledge!’ the prince said. ‘For here are thousands of kinds of fruit just as lovely as they are!’
‘Sound out yourself, and if you are not strong enough, the you must go with the East Wind that brought you here; he will fly back now and not return for a hundred years; such a space of time here will be as if no more than a hundred hours, but it is a long time for temptation and sin. Every evening when I leave you, I shall call out “Follow me!” to you, I shall wave with my hand to you, but you must stay here. Do not follow me, for with every step your longing will increase: you will enter the hall where the Tree of Knowledge grows; I sleep beneath its fragrant hanging branches, you will bend down over me, and I shall smile, but if you press a kiss to my lips, then the Garden of Eden will sink down deep into the earth and be lost to you. The keen wind of the desert will whistle round you, and cold rain will drip from your hair. Misery and tribulation will be your lot.’
‘I will stay here!’ the prince said, and the East Wind kissed him on the forehead and said ‘Be strong, and we will meet again in a hundred years’ time! Farewell! farewell!’ and the East Wind spread out his great wings; they gleamed like summer lightning at harvest time, or the northern lights in the cold winter. ‘Farewell! farewell!’ sounded from flowers and trees. Storks and pelicans flew in formation, like fluttering ribbons, and followed him to the boundary of the garden.
‘Now our dances start!’ the fairy said, ‘at their conclusion, when I am dancing with you, you will see, as the sun sets, that I wave to you, you will hear me call out to you: follow me! but do not do so! I will repeat this every evening for a hundred years; each time you resist, you will gain more strength, finally you will not think about it at all. Today is the first time; now I have warned you!’
And the fairy led him into a large hall of white transparent lilies, the yellow filaments in each of them was a small golden harp that made the sound of strings and the notes of the flute. The loveliest maidens, slim and light-footed, clad in billowing gossamer so that one could see their lovely limbs, danced as if hovering above the ground and sang of how lovely it was to be alive, that they would never die, and that the Garden of Eden would bloom for ever.
And the sun set, the whole sky was a mass of gold that lent the lilies the tinge of the loveliest rose, and the prince drank of the foaming wine the maidens held out to him, and he felt a bliss as never before; he saw how the backdrop of the hall fell away, and the Tree of Knowledge stood in radiance that blinded him; the song coming from it was soft and lovely, like his mother’s voice, and it was as if she was singing: ‘my child! my beloved child!’
Then the fairy waved and called out so lovingly ‘follow me! follow me!’ and he rushed towards her, forgot his promise, forget it on the very first evening, and she waved and smiled. The scent, the spice-filled scent around him became stronger, the harps sounded yet lovelier, and it was as if millions of smiling heads in the hall where the tree grew nodded and sang: ‘One ought to know everything! Mankind is master of the earth’ and it was no longer tears of blood that fell from the leaves on the Tree of Knowledge, it was red, glittering stars, it seemed to him. ‘Follow me, follow me!’ the quivering notes said, and at each step the cheeks of the prince burnt more fiercely, his blood coursed more swiftly! ‘I have to!’ he said, ‘it is not a sin, it cannot be! why not follow beauty and happiness! I want to see her asleep! nothing is lost as long as I do not kiss her, and that I will not do, I am strong, my will is unbending!’
And the fairy discarded her gleaming robe, held the branches aside, and a moment later she was concealed within.
‘I have not yet sinned!’ the prince said, ‘nor will I;’ and he pulled the branches to one side, there she lay already asleep, lovely as only the fairy in the Garden of Eden can be; she smiled in her dreams, he bent down over her and saw tears quivering between her eyelashes!
‘Are you crying on my behalf?’ he whispered, ‘do not cry, you lovely woman! Now for the first time I understand the bliss of paradise that flows through my veins, through my thoughts, the power of the cherub and eternal life I feel in my earthly body, let it become eternal night for me, a minute such as this is wealth enough!’ and he kiss the tears from her eyes, his mouth touched hers – –
- Then a thunderclap resounded, so profound and so terrible as no one has ever heard before, and everything caved in and collapsed: the lovely fairy, the flowering garden sank, it sank so deep, so deep, the prince saw it sink into the black night; like a tiny shining star it shone far off! A chill of death went through his limbs, he closed his eyes and lay there a long time, as if dead.
The cold rain fell on his face, the keen wind whistled round his head, and his thoughts came back to him. ‘What have I done!’ he sighed, ‘I have sinned just like Adam! sinned, so that paradise has sunk deep down!’ and he opened his eyes; the star far off, the star that glittered like the sunken paradise, he could still see – it was the morning star in the sky.
He got up and found himself in the large forest close to the Cave of the Winds; and the Mother of the Wind sat at his side, she looked angry and raised her arm.
‘The very first night!’ she said, ‘I though just as much! If you were my boy, you’d be for the bag right now!’
‘He will come there in due time!’ Death said – he was a strong old man with a scythe in his hand and with large black wings. ‘He will be laid in a coffin, but not yet; I have only set my mark on him, let him roam the world for some time more, atone for his sin, become good and better! – I will return at some point. When he least expects it, I will put him in the black coffin, place it on my head and fly up towards the star; there too the Garden of Eden blooms, and if he is good and devout, he shall be allowed to enter, but if his thoughts are evil and his heart still full of sin, he will sink in his coffin deeper that Paradise sank, and only every thousandth year will I fetch him again, so that he may sink yet deeper or stay on the star, that shining star up there!’